Engineering firms hoping to better manage their people and business activity through COVID-19 can begin by sorting the critical from the important.
During times of pandemic, it’s a very good idea to split employees into groups and keep them that way for the duration of the pandemic, said Geoff Hurst, Director of the ENGENEOHS Alliance.
It’s one way that engineering organisations can manage staff who are separated and ensure that people responsible for vital infrastructure are healthy, happy and capable of carrying out their essential roles.
The approach can be taken to all employees, Hurst said. In some Australian engineering firms, he has heard that senior managers have been sent home to work while other staff are expected to stay on the front line.
However, “some businesses are splitting staff groups very well”, he said.
“For example, one of the groups will come into the office or on to the site one day and the other group on another day. In between, the office will be thoroughly cleaned. It takes some effort and organisation, but it means that if one group catches the virus, the business can still run with half of its staff. The more groups there are, the more resilient the response.”
There are three types of risk to look for, said Hurst, who is also President of the Engineers Australia Risk Engineering Society.
One is personal, which is connected to the fact that individuals are enormously concerned that the virus could harm their health or end their life.
Another is societal, which is what government deals with around the spread of the virus throughout society and its roll-on effects, such as economic harm.
Finally, outrage risk comes from moments when people are forced to do something they don’t want to do.
All of these risks exist outside an organisation, Hurst said, but they also exist within.
“It’s important to demonstrate to staff that everything that can be done must be done so they can be more certain that they’re not going to contract the virus,” Hurst said.
“That helps manage the feelings of personal and outrage risk.”
It’s also important to recognise that staff desire human connection and consistency for their own emotional wellbeing, said Gavin Freeman, Director of consultancy Business Olympian Group.
“Companies need to find ways to recreate those connectedness routines, and that can be challenging. I encourage companies to have an online check-in — a block of time where people can jump in and just chat to replicate what happens in the office.”
When isolation is impossible
Hurst recommends a checklist for all engineering staff who are unable to isolate full-time:
- Shower when you get home and disinfect what you touched before you were clean.
- Wear coveralls while at work and change daily into clean overalls.
- Only speak to people on the telephone or via video. If you must be face-to-face, stay three metres apart.
- Disinfect all shared equipment.
- Apportion equipment and jobs to separate and dedicated groups of people.
- Split staff into many smaller groups.
- To reduce changeovers, work in 12-hour shifts.
- Work fewer days on site.
- Do critical work first, then do the important work if there is time.
- Eat in isolation in a personal space.
- Disinfect cars — personal and business — each day.
- When any team member gets sick, that team must be isolated as best as possible for two weeks.
- The sick team member’s family members should also remain under lockdown for two weeks.
- Have at least one team in reserve that is not exposed at all. Rotate that team every 14 days.